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1155: Ireland, the First Colony, Episode 2 - 27/09/05


Pope Adrian IV (Getty Images/Hulton|Archive)

Pope Adrian IV
(Getty Images)
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The first proper colonisation took place not in the West or East Indies, nor in America, but in Ireland. Ireland was the first English colony. In 1155, Pope Adrian IV published a Papal Bull Laudabiliter giving Henry II authority over Ireland. The document's value was that it authorized invasion.

In the late 1160s, the king of Leinster, Dermot MacMurrough [Diarmaid Mac Murchadha Uí] asked for Henry's protection. Henry allowed Dermot to recruit Norman knights led by the Earl of Pembroke, Richard de Clare. The first batch of Normans landed in 1169. De Clare arrived the following year and captured Waterford and later Dublin and married Dermot's daughter.

In 1171, Henry II, who had been distracted by among other matters, the murder of Thomas Becket and the disloyalty of his own sons, suspected the Normans were getting too much power in Ireland. Dermot died leaving the earldom to de Clare. This made Henry II even more alarmed. So he went to Ireland to demand the allegiance of the Irish and the Norman knights.

Henry was again distracted in 1174 when he had to fight off a rebellion by his own children. In 1175, he was forced to recognize Rory O'Connor as high king of Ireland. Two years later the conquest of Ulster was started and John de Courcy founded Belfast and work began on Belfast castle. The same year, 1177 John Lackland, Henry II's youngest son was given the title lord of Ireland. The burdensome history of the British and their first colony was under way.

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Historical Figure

Henry II (Getty Images/Hulton|Archive)

Henry II
(Getty Images)
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Henry ll, 1138-89

The first of the Angevin kings and the son of the count of Anjou Geoffrey Plantangenet. He is often remembered as being responsible for the death of Thomas Becket. But it was Henry II who ended the anarchy of the previous reign, and introduced the jury system and the grand assizes.

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Did You Know...

When the pope gave his blessing for the invasion of Ireland, Henry II was reminded that he had to "... pay from every house an annual pension of one penny to blessed Peter and to preserve the rights of the churches of that land inviolate and whole..." That penny to Peter is still known as Peter's Pence and it started with King Offa - he who built the dyke.

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Have Your Say

Events of this episode took place in Europe & M. East region. We're interested to hear your comments on the influence of Empire on this region:

Comment on Europe & M. East

Paul F. Bossert
As usual, British radio has provided a brilliant and timely enterprise that allows the modern mind to step back and not only see how and why we are where we are, but realize where we can go. Well done. We in New York City relish and admire your effort to continue to enlighten and educate through grand, adventerous programming. You truly keep us looking to the horizon.

Aodhan Breathnach
Very fair and objective, if a bit impressionistic (hard to cover 4 centuries in 15 minutes otherwise, I suppose). One gripe - I could listen to Juliet Stephenson's voice all day, but she mispronounced Meath (the 'th' is voiced, as in 'them') and Connaught (the 'gh' is pronounced as 'ch', not silent as in 'naught') Pity the BBC, with all its resources, could not check the standard local pronounciations of significant place names in England's oldest colony.

Jim Greer
Following England's inspired football result against my home team "Northern Ireland", I was gently ribbing one of the members of my Bridge Club about it when his partner piped up, "It makes me very angry the way you ex-colonials always take pleasure when England loses at any sport". We all thought she was joking, but one glance at her showed that she was serious. I was going to make some remark to the effect that it happens so often that it gives us a source of innocent merriment, or something like that - Shaw would probably have had a good riposte. Instead, I told her (paraphrasing Paul Henreid in Casablanca) that I had never accepted the dubious honour of being a subject or servant of the British Empire. She said that I had no choice in the matter and that was what I was. So, there it is, we are all defined by how we are seen from the English point of view. Who says that the British Empire is dead?

Robert W. Bennett
This is great. It is high time to celebrate and study the unique history of the British Empire. It is not only the history of Britain, but of the entire English Speaking World and binds us together as one people. It had it's many problems, but when compared to world history in general it is a great beacon of hope that still shines brightly to this day. Let us glory in the achievements of our forfathers and mothers in this wonderful undertaking and struggle to civilize mankind and free us from lawlessness, slavery and superstition. God Save the Queen.

Andrew Thorpe
Episode 1 implies that only Protestant England was empire building, was seeking to suppress its religious enemies. In fact, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain and France all built empires and suppressed their religious enemies. Whilst Protestant England's history is not blameless, religious toleration arrived in this country a very long time before it arrived in Catholic Europe. Episode 2. A reference to Spain is made in the context of the twelfth century...surely the country of Spain did not actually exist in the twelfth century - Aragon, Castile and Granada were all separate... Thank you. Andrew Thorpe

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Contemporary Sources

Pope Adrian IV edict
This edict apparently authorised King Henry II to invade, to conquer and then to rule Ireland.

"Your Majesty laudably and profitably considers how to extend the glory of your name on earth and increase the reward of eternal happiness in Heaven, when as a Catholic Prince, you propose to extend the limits of the Church, to announce the truth of the Christian faith to ignorant and barbarous nations, and to root out the weeds of vice from the field of the Lord; and the more effectually to accomplish this you implore the counsel and favour of the Apostolic See. You have signified to us, dearest son in Christ, that you desire to enter the island of Hibernia to subject that people to laws, and to root out therefrom the weeds of vice."

Letter from John of Salisbury
The secretary to Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury had stayed with Adrian the Fourth. In the autumn of 1159 he wrote about Ireland and Adrian:

"At my solicitation he gave and granted Hibernia to Henry the Second, the illustrious King of England, to hold by hereditary right, as his letter to this day testifies. For all islands of ancient right, according to the Donation of Constantine, are said to belong to the Roman Church. He sent also by me a ring of gold, with the best of emeralds set therein, wherewith the investiture might be made for his governorship of Ireland. And that same ring was ordered to be and is still in the public treasury of the King."

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